'Smart City' knows who needs power, and when

Updating Edison's power grids
Updating Edison's power grids

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Updating Edison's power grids 03:02

Tomorrow Transformed explores innovative approaches and opportunities available in business and society through technology.

Mannheim, Germany (CNN)In 1882 on Pearl Street, New York City, Thomas Edison opened the world's first commercial electric grid, lighting up local homes and businesses with cables connected to his power station.

Fast forward to the present day and although technology has changed immeasurably, the way we power our cities hasn't. But what if we could bring the grid up to date? That's exactly what they are doing in Mannheim, Germany.
Germany has extensive local renewable energy production, but renewable energy sources aren't always available when and where needed.
To match energy supply with demand, Mannheim uses broadband power line technology to transmit consumption and supply data over the power grid itself. That allows energy supply to be adjusted, so that energy is consumed where it's produced and when it's available.
    "I think the power grid can become a brain for the city by all that information that is generated in the grid," said Thomas Wolski, of Power Plus Communications, which runs the "Model City of Mannheim" project.
    Every house in Mannheim is connected to the smart energy network, which makes the most of renewable energy. This is not just a set of "smart homes" -- it's an entire smart city.
    "We turned (the existing grid) into a communication platform by adding just small modems of the nodes of the network," said Wolski. "We now have data available everywhere. We can send control data from the utility to remote places, we can send information back from the meters, from measurement devices about power quality, about the current status of the grid."
    Each household even has its own "Energy Butler" -- a small box that monitors how much power people use, say, when they're boiling the kettle or watching a movie. That data can be used make the most of variable tariffs, programing appliances to turn on at times when renewable energy is plentiful, and prices are therefore lower.
    Wolski says the technology could work pretty much anywhere in the world, and with the technology in place, the future of our cities could just be a little brighter.